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Karlovy Vary Showcases Stories of Social Turmoil

Jeremy Renner will introduce "Wind River" at the Czech event

The lineup at the Karlovy Vary International Film Festival reflects filmmakers grappling with new levels of complexity in social issues ranging from Europe’s refugee crisis to escalating tensions in autocratic states.

Aside from its leading role in showcasing the freshest work from Eastern and Central Europe, as seen not just in pics in the Official Selection but also in the East of the West section, the fest spotlights unconventional storytelling that has rolled in from India, Azerbaijan and Kosovo.

Europe’s moral, legal and political challenges in dealing with refugees from conflict states has fueled many directors’ visions in the past year, says Karel Och, KVIFF’s artistic director.

Presenting “filmmakers reacting to social and political issues in an artistic way” is a primary goal of the fest, he adds. This is reflected in the films competing for the Crystal Globe grand prize.

Karlovy Vary’s goal “to present the most current outstanding examples of modern filmmaking [and] innovation in storytelling” was a factor in choosing films such as “More,” the complex directorial debut feature from Turkish actor Onur Saylak. The psychological study of a 14-year-old boy helping his father with his side business, smuggling refugees from the Mideast across the Aegean Sea, certainly speaks to our times, says Och.

“The Birds Are Singing in Kigali,” meanwhile, reps the new vision of past Karlovy Vary winners Joanna Kos-Krauze and Krzysztof Krauze (“My Nikifor”), which was completed by Krauze’s widow after his 2014 death. Its focus on a personal story of grief set in the aftermath of the Rwandan genocide makes for a delicate mix of politics and drama.

The Georgian-German-French world premiere, “Khibula,” by past winner George Ovashvili (“Corn Island”), also takes on a region in turmoil, following the trek of the first democratically elected president of Georgia into the mountains as he flees a military coup.

Documentary “White World According to Daliborek,” top, and fictional feature “More” both deal with complex social issues.

Another main competition feature, “The Line,” the Slovak-Ukrainian entry by Peter Bebjak, is one of eight world premieres and a story that takes on the dilemma of surviving while making a living crossing international — and personal — boundaries.

“We have discovered some challenging and inventive films,” says Och, who travels the globe along with key members of the Karlovy Vary fest throughout the year, seeking undiscovered talent.

The fest’s closely watched East of the West section, headed by Lenka Tyrpakova, features compelling work from 12 filmmakers, including 10 world premieres.

The collection’s past pics have gone on to shape audience perceptions far beyond the region, Tyrpakova notes.

“There were quite a few really successful films festival-wise,” she says, citing Georgia’s “The House of Others” by Rusudan Glurjidze, which traveled to a host of fests and collected a dozen awards.

Last year’s East of the West opener, Hungarian black comedy “Kills on Wheels,” later won at the Thessaloniki Film Festival for both film and actors, while the Estonian debut “The Days That Confused” won a special mention at Karlovy Vary before moving on to several other fest scores.

Karlovy Vary’s docu section, this year screening Czech director-provocateur Vit Klusak’s portrait of a neo-Nazi, “The White World According to Daliborek,” also punches above its weight. Last year, the section served as a launchpad for Alma Har’el’s follow-up to “Bombay Beach,” the sketch of three deeply conflicted couples, “LoveTrue.”

This year, Klusak’s film is one of three world premieres, along with “Lots of Kids, a Monkey and a Castle” by Gustavo Salmeron and “Another News Story” by Orban Wallace. The British documentary, a debut for director Wallace, turns the camera lens on journalists sent to the Mediterranean to cover the humanitarian tragedy.

Another docu already gaining buzz, “Tarzan’s Testicles,” is a Romanian essay about “a decrepit institute in Abchazia.”

Actor, producer, musician and two-time Oscar-nominee Jeremy Renner (pictured above) is among the recipients of the fest’s Presidents Award. He will also introduce the crime thriller “Wind River,” directed by Taylor Sheridan, in which he stars.

Films such as these ensure that Karlovy Vary is tuned to the pulse of both politics and art, says Och.

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